Hands on the G4 PowerBook

At Macworld Expo/San Francisco, Mac fans hustled to get up close and personal with the biggest PowerBook redesign in three years

After three years without a major upgrade to its professional notebook line, Apple Computer delivered a bona fide showstopper in the sleek form of the company's long-rumoured G4 PowerBook.

Judging from the crowd's reaction at Steve Jobs' Macworld Expo keynote speech Tuesday morning, a casual observer might conclude the Apple chief executive was handing out $100 bills instead of introducing a new laptop.

In a typical Jobsian turn, the new notebook came at the end of the presentation: "We have covered a lot of great hardware and software today," Jobs told the crowd, "but there is one more thing..."

He then gave the audience a clue: the presentation monitor showed a simple slide that had the letters "Ti" on it, a reference to the new PowerBook's durable titanium chassis.

Jobs took aim squarely at the small and stylish Sony Vaio, observing that until now, "we've had the power and they've had the sex". The PowerBook G4 Titanium changes that status quo to claim both superior power and sex appeal, Jobs suggested.

To check that assertion for themselves, enthusiasts streamed from Jobs' speech to Apple's show-floor booth for a look at the PowerBook G4 Titanium.

Van Williams of Boulder, Colorado, said the new metallic stylings took a little getting used to. "The size and weight look really nice," he said, but "it looked a little PC-ish at first". While Williams said he was excited about the G4 processor built into the new system, he also expressed concern about the durability of the PowerBook's slender display hinge.

Boston student Ben Huebschner said he'd hoped the processor's clock speed would be closer to 600MHz, but he acknowledged that even at 500MHz, the PowerBook G4 will give a desktop G4 a serious run for the money when it comes time for him to get a new machine this summer.

Los Angeles-based consultant Victor Orly characterised the new PowerBook as "unbelievable... Apple engulfed the industrial design of the Vaio and put on a real OS [Mac OS X]," he said.

Rudy Pospisil, a prepress salesman from San Francisco, was "kind of awestruck" when he first saw the "gorgeous" new PowerBook. He was pleased that the 400MHz model was priced at $2,500. His company is looking to purchase PowerBooks for its entire sales staff, he said, and the price of the entry-level model will spur it to buy more G4 laptops. "I was afraid that it was going to cost $4,000!" Pospisil exclaimed.

The mood of the crowd was summed up by visitor Martin Mitchell, who said the new notebook was nothing short of "fabulous".

"It's great [for Apple] to be on top again in the notebook battle," Mitchell said. "This PowerBook is like the Vaio but without the flimsiness."

Jason D O'Grady is editor in chief of Go2Mac.com and PalmLounge.com and is head of the wireless practice at Odyssey Systems. He'll be talking up wireless Mac technology at a Macworld Expo/San Francisco conference session.

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